Charlotte: Johnny Benson preview

Benson says driving talent not birth certificate should determine driving in NASCAR and other series. Of the top 43 NASCAR Winston Cup drivers, ...

Benson says driving talent not birth certificate should determine driving in NASCAR and other series.

Of the top 43 NASCAR Winston Cup drivers, #10 Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson falls right in the middle of the age chart. About half the field is older and half younger than the 38-year-old Benson. For all the talk about NASCAR's youth movement and older drivers retiring, Benson points out it should be driver talent and not what's written on a birth certificate that should matter to owners, sponsors and fans.

While it's a hot topic in NASCAR, other racing series in America and around the world are also undergoing some changes in the average age of its competitors.

A review of the ages of most of the regular drivers in NASCAR, Formula One, CART and the IRL over the last four years show those drivers' average ages to be significantly different but the trend remains since 1999 that no matter what series the drivers are getting younger and younger.

Series
Year/Avg. Age

FORMULA ONE (22 starters)
2002 27.9
2001 27.4
2000 28.5
1999 28.9

CART    (Top 19 in 2002 points)

2002 30.0
2001 30.3
2000 30.0
1999 30.1

INDY RACING LEAGUE (Indy 500 starters)
2002 32.9
2001 33.6
2000 32.7
1999 34.1

NASCAR WINSTON CUP (top 43 in points)
2002 36.8
2001 35.9
2000 38.9
1999 38.5

Valvoline Pontiac Driver Johnny Benson:

"The age story seems to be the story that everyone is talking about this year in NASCAR. Although I don't think we are different from any other series. We had our youth movement over the last season or two and it's starting to stabilize a bit. I really don't see what the big deal is. If you can drive a car fast and handle all of the stuff off the track then I don't care if you 50 or 20 you should keep racing as long as you feel like you want to. Age doesn't mean much to me. A smart driver at 48 is better than a bad driver at 22 and a smart driver at 22 is better than a bad driver who is 48. It should be about what you do behind the wheel, not what your birth certificate says."

Benson On Today's Young Drivers:

"The young guys we are getting in our sport are more knowledgeable and better trained than ever and that's why they are doing so well. They have the reflexes of their youth and the smarts of a veteran. Plus they are getting in some awesome equipment. It didn't used to be that a ride the caliber of Penske, Hendrick, DEI, or Childress would open up to a young guy as it does now."

Benson On Importance of Age:

"I think the only people who look at the age are the sponsors. They want to get a guy they can build a program around. I can't blame them for that as long as the driver is talented. Talent should still be more important than how well you can market a driver. With that said, NASCAR still allows us drivers to have pretty long career compared to other forms of racing. I'm 38 so I am right at the average. I think half the field is younger and half older than me. I'd probably be thinking about retiring if I were in one of those other series."

Benson On Why Open Wheel Drivers Are Younger:

"I went to Spain a few years ago and watched those Formula One guys race through an awfully fast turn barely braking and I thought 'no wonder these guys are so young--you don't want a guy with a lot of experience because and experienced guy wouldn't try that.' I have always said that open wheel series require a driver to have both reflexes and daring without the premium on experience like ours requires. You have to have that in NASCAR but I think knowing how to make tires last, or how the track changes, or what to do with chassis setup is just as important as reflexes and daring."

Age Notes:

Each auto racing series stages some of their biggest events of the season in May. Charlotte headlines the NASCAR Winston Cup schedule while the Formula One cars run through the streets of Monaco. CART's high-speed cars have already raced in Japan while the Indianapolis 500 highlights the IRL's schedule.

* 18 Winston Cup drivers are over 40 years old. The IRL will boast five drivers (Arie Luyendyk, Mark Dismore, Raul Boesel, Eddie Cheever and Jeff Ward) over 40 years of age in Sunday's Indianapolis 500 while Formula and CART have no drivers over 40.

* Twelve of the 13 youngest active drivers in NASCAR have all won races or The Winston. (Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Hermie Sadler, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Matt Kennseth, Jeff Gordon, Jerry Nadeau, Tony Stewart, Jeremy Mayfield, and Steve Park)

* Kenny Schrader is the oldest at 46 and Casey Atwood is the youngest at 21 of the top 43 NASCAR Winston Cup drivers racing this weekend at Charlotte.

* Arie Luyendyk at 48 years old will be the oldest driver racing at Charlotte, Indianapolis, Monaco or any CART race this month.

* The average age of a Formula One driver is 27.9 years -- only 7 of the top 43 NASCAR Winston Cup drivers are younger than 29.

* Johnny Benson is 38 and 23rd oldest of the top 43 drivers. No Formula One driver is older than Benson and only Michael Andretti is older than Benson in CART.

* 2002 IRL Champion Sam Hornish is the third youngest driver in Sunday's Indy 500 while 2002 NASCAR Champion Jeff Gordon is the ninth youngest driver in Sunday's Charlotte 600. Formula One Champion Michael Schumacher is the fourth oldest in his series.

-valvoline-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Steve Park , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Atwood , Eddie Cheever , Jeff Ward , Arie Luyendyk , Mark Dismore , Michael Andretti , Raul Boesel , Johnny Benson , Jimmie Johnson , Hermie Sadler , Sam Hornis